Amenorrhea is the name that doctors give to the condition when a woman or teen misses her menstrual periods for more than 3 monthly cycles. While the occasional skipped period is probably no cause for concern, regular amenorrhea could point to another health problem that a doctor needs to deal with. Learn more about the causes of the condition in teens, and find out what your daughter may need to do to deal with the problem.
Type of amenorrhea
Doctors recognize two types of amenorrhea:
Primary amenorrhea occurs when a young woman never has a period. Periods normally start about 2 to 3 years after a girl's breasts start to develop, or when a girl is between 9 and 15 years old. Doctors sometimes refer to this condition as delayed menarche.
Secondary amenorrhea occurs when a woman stops getting periods after her menstrual cycle starts.
Causes and risk factors
There are several possible causes of amenorrhea. Some of these issues may cause primary or secondary amenorrhea, while some problems will normally only lead to one type of the condition.
Teens may suffer from amenorrhea if they:
- Are obese.
- Exercise too much.
- Have low body fat (less than 15-17%.)
- Are anxious or stressed.
- Suddenly lose a lot of weight.
Primary amenorrhea may occur if your daughter has a birth defect or another underlying medical condition. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome leads to various hormonal irregularities that can also prevent menstruation. Other hormonal abnormalities may also cause this problem.
Pregnancy is often the most common cause of secondary amenorrhea, as females no longer ovulate when pregnant. Of course, this cause is sometimes a shock to parents, who may not have even realized their daughter was sexually active.
Parents may not initially notice any symptoms, but it's vital that you remain vigilant and sensitive to possible signs. Teens may worry about the problem for some time before discussing it, and some of the physical signs are too intimate for parents to notice.
Amenorrhea can lead to sudden weight loss or weight gain. Girls with the problem may experience a change in breast size, as well as acne or increased hair growth in places you would normally only expect to see in a boy, such as the face. If the condition occurs because of another medical problem, your daughter may experience less obvious symptoms. For example, a pituitary tumor can cause headaches and vision loss, as well as amenorrhea.
Girls often start to menstruate at the same time and age as their mothers or grandmothers. African-American girls often start their periods before Caucasian girls, too. As such, it's always useful for moms to consider their daughter's symptoms as they relate to their own experiences.
Parents should also stay vigilant to other risk factors. For example, if your daughter is a keen gymnast, the exercise may lead to amenorrhea.
A doctor may need to carry out several tests to diagnose the cause of the issue. He or she will probably take a blood sample to check for hormone levels, but other tests are also possible. A biopsy of your daughter's cervix may help diagnose the issue, but she may even need an ultrasound, CT scan or MRI to look for underlying problems.
As such, the treatment needed will then depend entirely on the cause identified. For underlying medical conditions, your doctor will recommend an appropriate treatment plan. For example, a doctor will normally treat a thyroid or pituitary problem with medication. Amenorrhea is normally reversible, so you should reassure your daughter that the condition is only temporary.
Lifestyle changes are also often necessary. Girls may need to increase (or cut) the amount of exercise they undertake, and dietary changes can help control weight loss or gain.
Amenorrhea affects many American teens. Talk to a trained gynecologist at a medical clinic like Central Iowa OB/Gyn Specialists, PLC for more information or advice.